Heartease, or Wild Pansy- one of my mum’s favourite flowers, and mine, so it was lovely to come across patches of them on one of their favourite settings- sand dunes- recently. They also appear on cultivated, sandy soils. The colour-patterns vary and it is easy to see why they are also called ‘Viola Tricolour”. ‘Pansy’ comes from the French, “pensee”, “to think” and Louis the XV decorated the coat of arms of his favourite advisor, Francois Quesnay’, who he called his ‘thinker’ with these little gems. Heartease has long been used in herbal remedies, for skin conditions, chest complaints, as an anti-inflammatory and a diuretic. It also has a long association with grief. Shakespeare, in Hamlet, has Ophelia strewing herbs after the death of he father, saying ” And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts”. Conditions: Warm, with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 22 Min 12C.
Bottlenose Dolphins on the Moray Firth. One of the very special things we did on our recent Scottish holiday was to watch the Bottlenose Dolphins at Chanonry Point on the Black Isle, Moray Firth. Unless you are lucky, this takes patience but the rewards are wonderful- here are some photo’s of the mother and calf we watched catching a large fish, which the mother threw into the air by flicking her tail fluke. They do this to stun the fish before eating. A nursing mother needs to eat 8%of her body weight each day , and young can suckle up to two years and stay with the mother 3-6 years. There is a colony of about 130 Bottlenose Dolphins along the Moray Firth and they are the
most northern colony in the world. Because they have to survive in the cold north sea they are larger than other Bottlenose, needing extra fat and blubber to live in these waters. Conditions in Sheffield: Extremely hot, still day. Temperature today: Max 30C Min 15C.
Skuas– another couple of wonderful sightings from our Scotland /Orkney June trip, the Great and Arctic Skuas are predatory birds which will harass other birds, forcing them to release their catch of fish– they are sometimes called ‘piratical’ for this habit. Great Skuas, also known as ‘Bonxie’ In Scotland, will even tackle birds as large as Gannets and have been known to attack and eat Puffins as well as carrion. The Arctic Skua, now sadly on the endangered ‘red’ list, are very agile birds, flying fast and low, twisting and turning to harass birds to release their catch of fish- this one appeared over the coastal slope in front of me before zooming off across the heather. Conditions today in Sheffield: Warm and sunny Temperature: Max 21 Min 11C
Red-breasted Mergansers, which can be seen all round the uk in winter, only breed in the north of the UK, which explains why I have never seen their fascinating mating display until watching these (a long way off!) on a sea-loch in Orkney recently. The males (they appear to already be moulting their green heads, which they do after May-time) compete with each other for a female’s attention by doing ‘power-swimming’ beside each other, stretching their necks and then dipping their neck
and breast in the water, with bills open, calling (see photo’s). Mergansers are saw-bills, so named after their serrated bills, which help them catch the salmon and trout and other fish they dive for. Conditions: Sunny intervals Temperature: Max 20 Min 11 C.
Razorbills- just back from a wonderful holiday along the east coast of Scotland and Orkney, away from crowds and wi-fi (which explains the lull in blogs!) we had the chance to watch cliffs full of birds in several places. Razorbills are second only to Puffins in my favourite list at cliff such spots and these were at Fowlsheugh, south of Stonehaven (you won’t see them between the Humber and the Isle of Wight). They nest on cliff
ledges and rocks, often lower than most Guillemots which they nest near, and they have darker backs than their cousin Guillemots, and broader bills with clean, white markings on bills and wings. They are necessarily equally acrobatic, as they try to land on and leave these crowded, narrow nest-sites. Like their fellow auks (Puffins and Guillemots) they have evolved their shape as a compromise between flying and underwater swimming, which is how they catch fish and small crustaceans. Hence their wings are short and they have to flap them fast to fly. Conditions: Showery (It has been drier on our trip than for many parts of England!) Temperature: Max 16 Min 8C.
Puffins– who doesn’t love a Puffin or two. On our Scottish trip (hence the breaks from Wi-fi and from blogs) we met many people from across various continents who had come to Dunnet Head (mainland) and Orkney principally to see Puffins, and were very excited to do so. These photos from Dunnet Head are showing how Puffin mates greet each other when they meet up on their grassy headlands, where they burrow their nests or use old rabbit burrows. They bill-rub together. Although quite dumpy birds with small wings they can travel up to 55mph. to do so they have to flap their wings at a great rate of knots! Conditions: Drier than England! (Though not today!) Temperature: Max 10 Min 10c.
Lapwing are the UK birds with the most local names. We grew up with them as Peewits from their call, but maybe my favourite is Peasiewheep! I covered their flight display yesterday so today something about their behaviour on the ground. Being ground-nesting birds, their eggs and young are very vulnerable to predation by Gulls, Corvids, Foxes etc. They lay their highly camouflaged eggs on a slight rise so that the adults get the best view across the landscape, and they fly at any predators and mob them as soon as they come within range. They also feign injury, by lowering one wing so it appears broken, moving away from the nest to lure predators away and they even try to mislead human observers by making visits to false nest-sights. This behaviour led them to be called “full of trecherye” by Chaucer and, in the misogynistic language of the 17th century, ‘Plover’ was used as a word for ‘deceitful’ women. Their eggs were heavily harvested in the past and astonishingly, given the Lapwing is on the Red (Endangered) List, a licence can still be attained for egg-collection, though this
happens rarely. It is a shame more farmers don’t restore habitat for them as they eat many insect-pests. I love their punky crests and petrol-coloured backs. Conditions: Dry and cloudy. Temperature: Max 14 Min 6C.